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A Lookback of the Cybersecurity Threats in 2020
The world dramatically changed in 2020. The abrupt work from home shift to anything online such as online shopping opened up a plethora of cybersecurity threats at a scale never seen before.
Most Notable Cybersecurity Threats in 2020
Here are some of the notable cybersecurity threats in 2020:
1. Threats Associated with Collaboration Apps
The work from home shift gave rise to the demand for collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams, Slack, and Zoom. In 2020, threat actors turned their attention to these collaboration tools.
In 2020, the term “Zoombombing” was coined. This term refers to uninvited threat actors viewing Zoom meetings or sharing pornographic images and content.
Last year, threat actors leveraged association to Microsoft Teams – referring to the communication platform developed by Microsoft which features chat, videoconferencing, and file storage. In October 2020, Abnormal Security reported that up to 50,000 emails were observed spoofing employee emails and impersonating Microsoft Teams.
“The email pretends to be a Microsoft Teams notification email notifying the recipient that they have received messages and their teammates are trying to reach them,” Abnormal Security said. “The link landing page also looks convincingly like a Microsoft login page with the start of the URL containing ‘microsftteams’, lending further credence.”
2. Remote-Working Tools Exploitation
An IBM study released in June 2020 showed that 83% of employees were provided little to no ability to work from home prior to the sudden work from home shift. The IBM study further found that 53% of employees used their personal laptops and computers for business operations, while 61% also said their employer hasn't provided tools to properly secure those devices.
In 2020, threat actors actively exploited remote-working services such as virtual private network (VPN) services. In addition to masking internet protocol (IP) address so that online actions are virtually untraceable, VPN services promise secure and encrypted connections.
Security researchers, however, discovered security vulnerabilities in many VPN services. Even as VPN service vendors released patches fixing these security loopholes, many users delay the application of these patches, leading threat actors to exploit these unpatched security vulnerabilities.
In April 2020, the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security and U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency issued separate alerts warning organizations about the continued exploitation of the security vulnerability in Pulse Secure VPN, in particular, CVE-2019-11510 – a security vulnerability that allows a remote, unauthenticated attacker to compromise a vulnerable Pulse Secure VPN server, allowing an attacker to gain access to all active users and their plain-text credentials.
3. E-Commerce Threats
Among the effects of the lockdown measures in 2020 has been a huge spike in e-commerce business. Imperva reported that web traffic to retail sites spiked by as much as 28% on the weekly average. In “The State of Security within E-commerce,” Imperva reported that among the cyber threats faced by e-commerce businesses in 2020 were DDoS attacks and bad bots.
DDoS, short for distributed denial-of-service, refers to a cyberattack that attempts to disrupt the normal traffic of online resources such as websites, overwhelming the target or its surrounding infrastructure with a flood of internet traffic. DDoS attacks are launched by hijacking multiple computer systems, including Internet of Things (IoT), as sources of attack traffic.
According to Imperva, it monitored an average of eight application layer DDoS attacks a month against retail sites as lockdown measures led to an increase in demand for online shopping.
Bad bots, meanwhile, refer to software applications that run automated tasks over the internet for malicious purposes, for example, automatically scanning websites for software vulnerabilities and exploiting these vulnerabilities. According to Imperva, bad bots are the top threat to online retailers before and during the imposition of the lockdown measures.
4. Supply Chain Attack on SolarWinds
Year 2020 ends with one of the biggest cyberattacks: the supply chain attack on SolarWinds. On December 13, 2020, SolarWinds admitted that it fell victim to a supply chain attack.
In a supply chain attack, a threat actor gains access to your organization’s IT systems via an outside partner or third party that has access to your organization’s systems and data. According to SolarWinds, a threat actor gained access to its Orion Platform software source code and inserted the malicious software (malware) called “Sunburst.”
This malware ended up in the Orion Platform software update, specifically for versions 2019.4 HF 5, 2020.2 with no hotfix installed, and 2020.2 HF 1. According to SolarWinds, if present and activated, the Sunburst malware could potentially allow an attacker to compromise the server on which the Orion Platform software runs.
Open-source reports showed that the U.S. Treasury Department and other U.S. Government Departments had been compromised. Microsoft recently admitted that the SolarWinds supply chain attack also affected its own systems. Microsoft said that it found no evidence of access to production services or customer data, or its systems being used to attack others.
Microsoft, however, said that the SolarWinds attackers were able to view Microsoft's source code but had been unable to modify any code or engineering systems. “At Microsoft, we have an inner source approach – the use of open source software development best practices and an open source-like culture – to making source code viewable within Microsoft,” the company said. “This means we do not rely on the secrecy of source code for the security of products, and our threat models assume that attackers have knowledge of source code. So viewing source code isn’t tied to elevation of risk.”
Steve E. Driz, I.S.P., ITCP